A Minneapolis man convicted of threatening FBI agents who arrived on his doorstep to question his brother about alleged terrorism involvement was released from jail Tuesday, calling the incident "just a big misunderstanding."
Mohamed Ali Omar, 22 spent the past seven months in federal detention after he was charged in November with threatening federal agents and an interpreter who arrived at his home looking for his brother. He was convicted in March. That brother, Guled Omar, is among several men charged with providing material support to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He awaits trial. Another brother, Ahmed Ali Omar left Minnesota to fight in Somalia in 2007.
Hours after the hearing, in which Chief Federal Judge Michael Davis ordered the sentencing postponed and Omar released, Omar emerged from the federal courthouse in Minneapolis dressed in a suit and tie, flanked by his attorney and mother, who smiled with relief.
"I just want to say that I'm glad to be out," said Omar, who said the altercation with agents began after a Somali interpreter called his sister "a very degrading, insulting name."
"All I really was doing was just defending my sister and, as a man and the culture I come from, you have to look out for your siblings," he said. "So once my sister was disrespected, I just made a few warnings. That's pretty much what it was, I was just sticking up for my sister."
Kyle Loven, the FBI's spokesman, said, "This gentleman was convicted at trial by a jury of his peers and the FBI will stand by the verdict rendered by the jury."
The encounter occurred on Nov. 6, 2014, when two FBI agents and a Somali-English interpreter showed up at Mohamed Omar's family home.
The 54-second cellphone video, recorded by one of Mohamed's sisters, shows him on the front porch, demanding to see a business card before telling the agents to get off his property.
"And [if you] talk to my sister like that one more time, I'll knock your [expletive] in," Mohamed is heard saying to the interpreter, as the agents walked away, warning them that if they return, "Something's gonna happen to you." Prosecutors assert that he also told the agents that he had a "permit to carry."
FBI agents returned the next day with a search warrant to look for guns and ammunition, and found two empty boxes for Glock pistols, a half-empty box of bullets and a holster, according to court documents.
A jury found Omar guilty, but at sentencing, his attorney, Paul Applebaum referred to Elonis vs. United States, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that reversed the conviction of a Pennsylvania man sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for posting online rants against his co-workers, estranged wife and law enforcement agents. The high court held that prosecutors must do more to prove that threatening language amounts to "true threats," which are not protected by the First Amendment.
Davis, citing the complexity of the decision, agreed to postpone Omar's sentencing until September, and released him with conditions, including an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Upon hearing the judge's decision, Mohamed Omar's sister, Hodan Omar, pressed her hands together and raised them as she wiped her eyes.
"It's been a long journey," she said afterward. "At least we have one home."
Afterward, Omar said, "It's been tough" to remain in custody knowing the current fates of his two brothers. Asked about the incarceration of his brother Guled, he was quickly cut off by Applebaum, who said he would have no comment.
The average sentence for the conviction is four to 10 months, and Omar has already served seven. Applebaum said that regardless of whether the conviction stands, he hopes Omar's time behind bars will be considered time served.
"Mohamed Omar did what any brother would do when a perfect stranger directs an unspeakable vulgarity at his sister: He put that person in check," Applebaum said. "Remember, the vulgarity came after the agents refused to leave the front porch of the Omar home, and after an agent asked Mr. Omar if he were the 'mother' of the family. It seems to me he has nothing to apologize for."
In a letter to Davis explaining his actions, Omar didn't apologize, but explained his actions as a brother to six sisters in a single-parent household.
"I am the man in the house and have a great responsibility over my shoulder," he wrote. "I don't want to be the brother who disappeared and paid no attention to my younger siblings."
In a related case, the last of a group of Twin Cities men charged with assisting ISIL made his first, brief court appearance on Tuesday.
Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 21, made his first appearance since he was arrested in mid-April alongside his friend, Abdirahman Yasin Daud, 21, in San Diego after traveling there from Minneapolis. FBI agents say the pair sought to cross into Mexico and then fly to Turkey on their way to Syria.
Other defendants in the case include Hanad Mustafe Musse, Guled Ali Omar, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman and Farah's brother Adnan Abdihamid Farah.
Staff writers Libor Jany and Paul McEnroe contributed to this report.